Akira Yamaoka and the Silent Hill name are practically synonymous with each other, despite the composer currently having a banner year at Grasshopper Manufacture. His soundtracks on eight of the ten Silent Hill games (as well as both films) established him as inseparable from the series. It’s hard to imagine there would be Silent Hill games without his music (although the two not featuring him have been serviceable). Even without the games to accompany them, I find his musical work on the series immensely satisfying on their own.
The first game of the series I played was Silent Hill 2 (and revisiting the first Silent Hill years later) and I actually skipped the intro the first time around. I was young and stupid. When I replayed the game, immediately after my first playthrough I actually left to get some snacks and the Theme of Laura began blasting on my television, scaring me half to death. This incident proved that I was hungry and stupid, but stupid because I dared skip the theme of the game my first time around.
Still, just because I didn’t listen to the opening theme didn’t mean I didn’t understand that the musical direction in the game was one of the key features of Silent Hill 2. I could thank the track (White Noiz) immediately playing in the first scene when James is looking at himself in the bathroom mirror as already flooring me with how perfect the music was. First impressions truly are important when it comes to soundtracks.
Unfortunately, I can’t recall exact songs playing at exact moments during the game (that would be a bit too obsessive right? Right?), but that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about the soundtrack overall. After all, it’s the music not the game I want to keep reminiscing about.
Next I played the games chronologically through Silent Hill 4 and when the PSN store had the first Silent Hill game for download I went back to visit the PS1 classic. Starting with Silent Hill 3, I first encountered his collaboration with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn on (You’re Not Here), and it’s unbelievable how well her voice (already amazing to begin with) accompanies the tracks they work together on. Personally, I think her strongest work might be on the Silent Hill: Shattered Memories soundtrack, with songs like Hell Frozen Rain demonstrating the range of both artists.
Ha, look at me like I know what I’m talking about. But it’s hard not to notice the power behind both of these artists which brings me to a strange thought I’ve always had: Akira Yamaoka is primarily a rocker, isn’t he? His more powerful compositions featuring guitars always seemed much better than his ambient, industrial works. This isn’t anything against the sound design because heaven knows Silent Hill wouldn’t be the same without ungodly scratching against sheets of metal. Flower Crown of Poppy is basically one of many amazing examples of his ambient work.
Or Room of Angel from Silent Hill 4 which brings together Yamaoka’s ambient work with powerful vocals.
Honestly it’s a shame that a “lesser” game like Silent Hill Homecoming gets overlooked when it features the duo (at this point Mary Elizabeth McGlynn makes an appearance in every Silent Hill soundtrack as well as gets credits for their songs, hence them being a duo) at an incredibly strong point together. Alex Theme and Elle Theme particularly demonstrate the strength the music itself has for the series. I especially love the paranoid rambling McGlynn sings as Alex’s POV and her desperation as Elle searches for her lost sister. Nothing like missing relatives and paranoia to make for catchy music.
It’s really interesting to me that rocker Akira Yamaoka isn’t just responsible for the “sound” of Silent Hill but that his work seems to be arguably the most consistent thing in a series I’ve enjoyed pretty much throughout. It’s hard for me to separate some of the tracks from the game as a few of the ambient titles work better when playing the horror game, but I’m always down to put one of his heavier songs or anything that features Mary Elizabeth McGynn into my regular playlist. With a sound ranging from industrial sounds more raw and uncut than Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor ain’t got nothin on Akira Yamaoka), to the classic dark rock styling of Yamaoka’s more power heavy tracks, his work on Silent Hill‘s music sets the standard for survival horror music that is as psychological as the games that featured it.